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#2454: Antoine provides his final comments on Duvalierism (fwd)

From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

I know that some of you are getting tired of all this talk about
Duvalierism, but in my opinion, questions of history cannot be conveniently
ignored without tragic consequences.  I do wish that you would not have
heard from me so often, but I am compelled to speak up due the silence of
others.  I promise however to disengage from this debate, as I attempt to
tell you in one fell swoop the comic and the tragic about Life under Papa
Doc.  Bear with me this once, and I will keep peace afterwards.

Poincy says:
"The man eradicated the "foot disease" which could handicap the people and
ultimately kill them. I am sure your mathematical inclination will make you
see easily how infectious diseases that are contagious can spread very
rapidly. When one has it, the whole family, the whole neighborhood, the
whole village, the whole town, the whole city and the whole country can
catch it, unless it was not a contagious disease."

I respond:
"Poincy, I was hoping that in fact, you would have been able to shed more
light on the subject.  You did not advance any hard data to corroborate your
claim.  I already knew that Duvalier played a role in the eradication of
"pian", as part of an American team.  I do not deny him any credit for the
public service he has rendered a population that would otherwise continue to
be affected by the disease for some time.  However, you seem entirely too
anxious to give Francois Duvalier all the credit in the world for this
public health achievement, and despite my challenge to you to quantify both
the public health danger that existed and Duvalier's effort to eradicate it,
you continue to deal in easy simplifications and generalities.  Whereas
before you were talking of a "simple geometric calculation" that would prove
that Duvalier saved more (many, many more) Haitian lives than he snuffed
out, you have failed to give me any data that I could plug in as parameters
of that geometric calculation.  Was PIAN on the order of AIDS?  How many
people were infected?  How many patients did Duvalier actually treat or
save?  What was the rate of contagion?  Was the Haitian population totally
at the mercy of that disease, and would have been wiped out were it not for
the miraculous intervention of Francois Duvalier?  All questions that indeed
deserve answers.

Your assessment of the role played by Francois Duvalier needs to be grounded
in facts and an objective statistical and medical evaluation of such.
Otherwise, you run the risk of simply feeding a myth (not my
characterization, but a logical deduction of your chosen methodology).  The
great irony is that you are quick to dismiss people's accounts of Duvalier's
barbarities as "tragic and personal tales", and yet you offer only extremely
soft data, if any,  to buttress your ringing endorsement of Francois
Duvalier as a worthy leader on the order of Henry Christophe.  Could I
employ you to speak of me at my funeral, Poincy? (Of course, all of
Corbettland would be present, bussed if necessary or by all coercive means

Poincy also says that I should "FEEL PROUD" that my father's truck was
hijacked every 22nd of May to transport my countrymen to Port-au-Prince so
they would sing the praises of Papa Doc, the savior of the Nation.  Poincy,
my pride is not so easily misplaced.  I would have to be a nitwit, an
intellectual zero to accept such a proposition.  To be proud of an act of
coercion performed by a regime for his self-aggrandizement smacks of
servility, and is at any rate unthinkable as far as I am concerned.

Poincy, you call me a victim of "intellectual wash".  I believe that the
"wash" is what you attempt to do on this forum in your effort to resurrect
Francois Duvalier as good for Haiti, but far too many blood stains will keep
you washing our public laundry till the cows come home.

Speaking of coercion, and since we are currently in an electoral period, let
me recount for you how I came to vote for Jean-Claude Duvalier to be
President For Life of Haiti.

I was eighteen years old and living in Cap-Haitien. I never had the opportun
ity to vote previously.  I considered voting one of those rites of passage
into manhood.  A golden opportunity presented itself.  The entire population
of voting age (18 and over) was invited to participate in the electoral
process that would vindicate the "politically revolutionary" idea of handing
the power to the youth of the country, representing its glorious future.
The government communiqués exalting the virtues of youth bombarded the
airwaves for a few weeks beforehand.  As a youth, I was not quite sure what
the fuss was about, but I was intrigued by my sudden emergence as an
extremely valuable asset for the nation.  No less an authority than his
Excellency the President for Life had said so! ( I had no suspicion of his
dying, or his inability to defy and vanquish death, he with the supreme
ability to wield it on others.)  I was truly intrigued, but my parents would
not talk of this sudden "empowerment" of the youth of the country.
Intrigued enough to want to know what this was all about.

So that Sunday morning, after mass, I and a couple of my empowered friends
decided to conquer our timidity about "the political process" and exercise
our civic duty (or find out what the hell this was all about).  So we walked
to the "polling station" which was located at the Hotel de Ville facing the
main square of the City, directly opposite to the Cathedral.  This was the
day we were to validate our manhood and our revolutionary potential.  So I
walked up to the polling table.  On the left side was an armed Tonton
Macoute.  On the right side was an army man with a machine gun.  It was
simply surreal.  From that moment, every gesture was pre-determined.  I was
handed a ballot, and I read it.  It contained a wordy question to this
effect: "Do you accept the choice of His Excellency, the President for Life
of the Republic, of his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, as his successor as
President for Life of the Republic?  Answer: YES".  There, a marvel of
simplification that Western democracies should emulate perhaps (there is so
much less expense involved).  I read the ballot, but was I an illiterate
person, it would not have made any difference.  I did not dare look at the
Tonton Macoute.  The soldier with the machine gun gestured to me that it was
time to deposit my vote in the ballot box.  I did so.  I was not asked to
present any form of identification.  They did not confuse me with
alternatives.  The process was extraordinarily efficient.  I had just voted
for Jean-Claude to become Papa Doc's successor.  The meaning of this act was
still largely and curiously symbolic to me.  After all, Papa Doc could
easily stay in power for another thirty years... or so I thought.  I left
the polling station, feeling a bit dazed.  The experience had been neither
exhilarating nor traumatic in any way...  A letdown to be sure (I had not
exercised an intellectual choice, other than these two: I voluntarily went
to the polling station, and I voluntarily did not return to it on that day.
One time was enough.)

Later I learned that the vote tally was many hundred thousands (if not
millions) "YES" and ONE vote against.  To this day, I wonder where they kept
the "NO" ballots and who specifically asked for it...  Curious.  A couple
months after the voting, came the announcement of Papa Doc's death.  His son
had succeeded him as President for Life.  They said it over the radio, but a
friend of mine was first to inform me.  The streets were eerily quiet.  I
was incredulous.  I became convinced of Pap Doc's passing, but the news of
Jean-Claude automatically becoming the new President just seemed too much to
be true.  After all, he was just a kid.  Some training period would seem
necessary.  As I remember telling my friend: "No, this must be a joke, you
must have heard wrong, this simply cannot be..."  My friend did not answer
back.  He just let the realization slowly dawn on me.  My vote actually had
more significance than I ever imagined.

Soon after I arrived to the United States, the country got deeply embroiled
in the Watergate scandal.  I was riveted to the screen.  I religiously
watched all of the televised proceedings.  I read every story of every
newspaper that was available to me at the time. I listened intently to John
Dean, President Nixon's chief accuser, to Peter Rodino, Barbara Jordan,
Samuel Dash, Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, all the witnesses, and finally
the President himself during press conferences and the harsh questioning by
Daniel Schorr and others.  I memorized many passages of testimony.  I could
hardly understand what was happening to me, as I cared about Watergate more
than most Americans: After growing up under Duvalierism, I was for the first
time in my life witnessing a democratic process.  It was exhilarating.

Let me tell you a story.  I emphasize that this is a story, not one of my
tragic tales, and this will become immediately obvious.  A man had a son who
was dying of a mysterious disease.  The hougans in town had been unable to
help his son in any way.  His state of health was deteriorating, and
alarmingly so.  On the advice of his neighbors, the man went to see a
powerful bokor.  The bokor told him: "You understand of course that the
execution of your request will require a payment of 2,000 dollars?"  "Yes, I
understand this very well, but my son is everything to me, please I beg you
to save him".  "Then this is what you shall do: (various libations, various
prayers, various potions, etc...) but above all you must place a picture of
the Devil under his head when he falls asleep.  The man gratefully paid his
dues, and went home quite anxious to do everything that was prescribed for
his son's recovery.  He faithfully did everything the bokor had prescribed,
except for one thing:  The trouble was that nowhere could he find a picture
of the Devil.  He was becoming desperate, when he fell upon a picture of
Francois Duvalier.  Oh, Thank You God, he cried, this will have to do.  When
the son fell asleep, the man put Papa Doc's picture under his head.  A few
minutes later, the son stopped breathing.  The father was incredulous, but
the reality was that his son was dead.  Truly inconsolable, he made his way
back to the bokor to relate what had happened and reproach him for his
misfortune.  The bokor was quick to reply: "Don't blame me for any of this.
I asked you to place a picture of the Devil under your son's head, you on
the other hand administered an overdose."

You, from Corbettland, are lucky(?) to hear me tell the end of this story.
As I was telling it in a very low voice to my friends, one Saturday, after a
day of studying at a retreat (convent) a few miles from Carénage in
Cap-Haitien, I noticed ahead of us, on the twisty and narrow road, a man who
was ostensibly slowing down his gait and straining to hear the punch line.
An inquisitive look revealed to me his identity: he was one of the tonton
macoutes in town.  I immediately transformed my story into one of the
spaghetti westerns that was playing at the time.  This retelling was totally
incongruous but probably saved my life and that of my friends. The tonton
macoute must have been utterly confused.  In a split second, I knew that I
had come to the brink of disaster.  Had I fallen a victim that day, you
would not be bored with my stories and tragic tales.  That's the way the
cookie crumbled, folks.  Some got lucky, and some did not.

I was one of the lucky ones...

Guy S. Antoine
Look thru & Imagine!